FEATURE: The Metro Minerva Theatre’s Final Curtain Call
by JOHN MOYLE
A decision by the Central Sydney Planning Committee on November 9 has delivered the biggest blow the Potts Point, Kings Cross area since the introduction of the lockout laws that lasted from 2014 to 2021.
At 5pm on a Thursday night, the Planning Committee approved the development proposed by Central Element to convert the 1,000 seat art-deco Metro Minerva Theatre to a $69 million 63-roomed boutique hotel, forever locking it out of the community and wider Sydney.
Included on the Planning Committee’s panel were Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Councillors Chan and Worling from Team Clover, Abbie Galvin, State Government Architect, and Anthea Sargeant, Department of Planning.
The vote for the approval was unanimous, despite over 1700 objections, numerous reports and feasibility studies in favour of restoring the theatre, including one study that was partially funded by the City of Sydney.
City of Sydney Liberal Councillor Lyndon Gannon described the decision “as the final curtain call for Kings Cross.”
“We knew that heritage was no longer an issue, but that didn’t mean that the social, economic and environmental impacts were irrelevant,” Andrew Woodhouse,” the President of Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Society said.
“These were specifically required to be addressed, as were the objections.”
“There was plenty of room to reject the DA, but Clover bulldozed it through.”
The development was originally budgeted at $39 million, which meant that it would have been overseen by the Local Planning Committee but then Central Element revised the budget to over $50 million which mean that it went before a panel that is generally regarded as pro-development.
The Metro Minerva Theatre Action Group has been at the centre of the battle to bring the theatre back to a performing arts space.
Formed in August 2019 they quickly secured a meeting with Don Harwin, the arts minister in the Berejiklian government.
The group was made up of theatre practitioners, business owners, journalists, publicists, architects and local historians that met regularly to lobby government and council, created a website and held a rally that attracted 400 people in Fitzroy Gardens while collecting thousands of signatures by hand and online.
Harwin made a strong public case for the state purchasing the theatre, but when Perrottet forced Berejikian from office, Harwin’s days as a power broker were numbered.
“Then we had an election and neither party wanted to comment on the Minerva, or anything else,” Warren Fahey, MMTAG committee member and historian said.
“We then had a young arts minister (John Graham) who was quoted as saying that he wanted to see the Kings Cross, Potts Point area become a Covent Garden type area, and he saw the Metro Minerva a key player in this revitalisation.”
“For whatever reason, maybe budgetary, he seems to have dropped the football.”
After one meeting with Graham, in which he expressed the belief that the Kings Cross, Potts Point area had been unfairly treated by the lockouts, the committee was attempting to secure a further meeting when the Planning Committee decision was made.
“It is a big disappointment as this was a unique opportunity and now we are finding online all these notable theatre and music people coming out and saying what an appalling decision,” Fahey said.
For more that 50 years Paul Brennan has been at the forefront of film and theatre in NSW, including being involved in the rescue of Yass’s art deco Liberty Theatre.
“I regard the Metro Minerva as the equivalent in viable entertainment pop culture and theatre as Sydney’s equivalent to New York’s Radio City Music Hall,” Brennan said.
“The Metro Minerva is 80 per cent intact, and the convoluted interior can be dismantled, allowing for the retention of the original 1,000 seat theatre with excellent stage facilities.”
In a statement to City Hub, Councillor Adam Worling said, “This is not a decision I took lightly.”
“There has always been a lot of passion attached to this building and there was strong community support both for and against the proposal that has passed.”
The Metro Minerva Theatre Action Group came close more than one to realising their goal, but the decision by the Central Planning Committee is now accepted, with the kicker that Central Element will be closely scrutinised in executing their plans. Despite all efforts by the local community and theatre lovers across Australia and the world, the reincarnation of the Metro Minerva is not to be, and we will never know if it could have played a role in rejuvenating the Kings Cross Potts Point area.
Disclaimer: John Moyle is a member of the Metro Minerva Theatre Action Group